The Ten Least Intimidating, Supposedly Powerful Robots in Sci-Fi

Friday, July 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

3. The Colossus of New York (1958)

Towering Ed Wolff from The Phantom Creeps also wore the suit in this saga, in which the brain of a brilliant scientist (Ross Martin) who's died in an accident is placed in the melon of the hulking Colossus. Again, a cool, Frankenstein-ish design, plus he shoots rays from his eyes, but all this is undercut by his lack of flexibility. He looks, as so many movie robots do, like a senior citizen doing laps at the shopping mall. There's also an unsavory moment toward the end when he asks his little son to push a lever under his cloak. If you tuned in a second late, just in time to hear the Colossus repeatedly saying "Harder, Billy, harder!" you might get the wrong idea.

2. Tobor the Great (1954)

The oversell is right there in the title of this one. The robot, who's designed for space travel, has a certain midcentury charm, certainly. And he gets points for his name, which, like Dracula Jr.'s alias "Alucard," is a cunning, nearly impenetrable alias. But "great?" That may be pushing it. The trailer assures us, however, that he's "The most human outer space man ever seen on Earth!" Maybe, but he looks like just another metal man, waddling around like he's got a load of something in his pants, except he's not wearing pants. But Tobor is notable if only because he was designed by Robert Hinoshita, who would go on to design two other immortal robots, Will Robinson's companion from Lost in Space, and also...

1. Robby the Robot

Yes, I know, sci-fi icon, classic robot. The robot that started it all, in a sense. I love Robby. There's a miniature Robby on my desk, staring at me reproachfully as I type these words. But Hinoshita's bubbly Michelin-Man body design, and his outstretched arms which somehow suggest a needy request for a hug, keep him from exuding danger. This was fine in Forbidden Planet (1956), where he was basically a cabana boy for Dr. Morbius, freezing up when asked to defend his master from the attacking Monster from the Id, because the threat is derived from Morbius' psyche and Robby's programming forbids such disloyalty. But Robby's follow-up feature, The Invisible Boy (1957), showed his limitations as a performer. He kidnaps the title character at the request of an evil supercomputer, but we never really believe he's going to harm the lad. Cool robot? Sure. Urbane robot? No question. Badass robot? Sorry.

Previous articles by M.V. Moorhead:

The Top Ten Pop-Culture Cavemen Who Aren't the Flintstones (or the Croods)

The Ten Nerdiest Modern Shakespeare Adaptations

The Thirteen Greatest Fictional Snails

The Ten Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror Novels You've Probably Never Read


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